C-Suite View – Management Opportunities For Women Advancing Across NCR
By Jeff Buckstein
Erin Crowe’s impressive resume is a testament to the growing achievements of women in senior management positions in various sectors, industries and companies in the National Capital Region.
Crowe, a chartered professional accountant, has had an interesting career path that includes 18 years with the Ottawa Senators between 1996 and 2014, ten of which were as chief financial officer and executive vice-president of the NHL team. During her tenure the team went through a Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) restructuring and change of ownership.
“When people ask me what was the biggest accomplishment of my career, I still think back to the Senators’ CCAA filing and the change in ownership and the sale of the team, – and my playing a big role in that transition,” recalls Crowe.
After leaving the Senators in 2014, Crowe subsequently spent about 18 months as chief financial officer and chief operating officer of The Regional Group of Companies, a large local real estate firm, and then just over a year as chief financial officer of ProSlide Technologies Inc., a global waterpark design and manufacturing company.
She was named chief financial officer at Martello Technologies Group Inc., a firm that provides clarity and solutions for network performance management, and which is headquartered in Ottawa, with about 100 employees worldwide, in 2018.
“Being a key resource in the go-public transaction with Martello last September rivals the Senators’ CCAA process as another great accomplishment in my career more recently,” says Crowe.
Crowe says although she continues to observe too few females in corporate leadership positions, particularly in larger firms, she has noticed that the situation has improved over the past five to ten years, with a lot more attention being paid to the gender gap.
“Organizations are starting to realize that gender diversity, along with other types of diversity are not things that are just ‘nice to have’ for business. They’re really imperative,” she stresses.
One advantage the Ottawa business community offers for leaders of both genders, says Crowe, is that the city is relatively small compared to other international venues, and is therefore very well connected, so individuals can be recognized quickly for their accomplishments.
Another advantage is that groups such as the Ottawa Board of Trade are making an effort to recognize and promote women who have been successful and to elevate the concept and value of diversity.
“You need to get the awareness out there. If I can bring awareness to the importance and value of having members on leadership teams and within companies, and of females being role models as the younger generation enters the workforce, I think that’s all very positive,” stresses Crowe.
Mark Laroche, president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa International Airport Authority since 2013, has enjoyed an excellent vantage point from which to view the growing influence of women in positions of authority throughout the National Capital Region.
Laroche is also a former chief administrative officer of the Ville de Gatineau dating between 2001 to 2007, prior to moving to Toronto for six years as president and CEO of the Canada Lands Company. He views Ottawa as a leading Canadian city in terms of providing opportunities for gender equality, including promoting leadership positions for women.
Laroche notes that the federal government, which remains one of the largest employers in the NCR, has made it very clear they favour having strong representation from women at senior management levels. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also publicly promoted this policy within the federal cabinet.
“The federal bureaucracy is quite strong in promoting equality. This has an impact on the business sector eco-system which is very diverse, including with respect to gender,” he elaborates. “When our biggest employer actively promotes gender equality, it benefits all employers in the National Capital Region, as the pool of experience and qualified female candidates occupying senior positions in the public or private sector is increased.”
The Airport Authority has four female board members, constituting one-third of the 12 board positions currently occupied. In the last five years women occupied leadership positions that include Chair of the Board, Chair of the Audit Committee and Chair of the Human Resources Committee, Laroche notes.
The Airport Authority is also in the process of developing initiatives to help increase the number of women in management and non-traditional roles – with a target of marked increases in gender diversity in these areas, he adds.
Heather McLachlin, the president of Cowan Insurance Group, a Canadian owned, privately held brokerage and consulting firm with an office in Ottawa, has enjoyed a career with leadership opportunities in various insurance industry roles.
“I’ve always had this strong belief in the importance of fostering talent, given the opportunities that were provided to me. The financial business, and specifically insurance, always had lots of opportunities for both genders. It’s been a very good industry to me, and several of my colleagues, and I’ve been very lucky to be a part of it,” says McLachlin, who is based at Cowan Insurance’s corporate head office in Cambridge, Ont.
The history of Cowan Insurance dates back to Princeton, Ont. when it was founded by Frank Cowan in 1927. The company expanded to Ottawa in 2001 when it merged with an existing insurance firm, Welton Beauchamp, Nixon to become Cowan Wright Beauchamp.
“Frank Cowan’s grand-daughter Maureen represents our majority shareholder and still works within our group of companies today. I have great respect for her vision, business acumen and her values and beliefs. Alongside the incredible potential I saw with the business, Maureen was one of the reasons why I was so attracted to come to Cowan in 2010,” says McLachlin.
McLachlin began her career with The Co-operators in the late 1980s.
“I have fond memories because they were the type of organization that invested in us, and encouraged us to aspire to different and non-traditional roles. I had a variety of executive level, corporate and field roles across The Co-operators Group of Companies,” she recalls.
All of that provided excellent training for when McLachlin joined Cowan Insurance Group’s head office in Cambridge, Ont. as the company’s president in 2010. “I love it,” she says of her current position.
The NCR is considered a prime location for Cowan Insurance for many reasons. “Ottawa is vibrant and growing, and there are so many exciting opportunities, so as a business we’re incredibly proud to be here,” says McLachlin.
“I think there’s a wonderful climate in Ottawa that combines collaboration between academia and government and business. That tripod of relationships working effectively is a unique recipe that Ottawa has been able to foster that also attracts businesses to want to come to this city,” she says.
Cowan Insurance Group has a very diverse, expanding business in Ottawa with lots of upside opportunity in a city that continues to expand and innovate. “Our association with the Board of Trade has also been really important in the sustainability of that business,” McLachlin explains.